Regardless of its length, any paper you submit in undergraduate or graduate school will contain the same components: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It is important to have a general idea of the composition of these parts, because an inaccurate usage of any of them will result in a disjointed submission that distorts what you are trying to tell the reader.
The introduction need not be long, and in a 12-page paper, it might be no more than one-half page, and a page at the most. Quite simply, the introduction tells the reader what he is about to read by outlining your thesis, and if you have a point to make, then you make it here and be done with it.
The body will be where you convince the reader that you know what you are talking about and it is here that you must make your case and convince your audience that yours is the most compelling point of view available. It is here also that you make your case through the use of primary sources that support your thesis, with the understanding that the more sources of this nature that you use, the more convincing your argument will be.
Your conclusion should be about the same length as your introduction and do nothing more than summarize your thesis without being repetitive.
There are a number of style manuals available that describe these parts of a research paper in much greater detail and it is strongly recommended that you buy one from any good bookstore’s reference section.
The secret to structuring a coherent argument and writing well is to read more. Sloppy writing connotes sloppy thinking, so a poor writer is generally someone who seldom reads anything of substance. By expanding your consumption beyond this level of prose, you will expose yourself to as many styles as there are personalities behind them. Just as no two people are alike in behavior, so no two literary styles are exact, and this is the benefit you accrue by reading as many styles as possible. In doing so, if you are attentive, you can adopt the best features of these methods of writing and meld them into your personality as it comes out in your own writing. It is not that difficult to do if you have the desire to make improvement in this aspect of your education. Most people think of themselves as good writers, when in reality, they are mediocre at the very best. The fundamental reason for this is that people tend to write exactly as they speak, which is a grave mistake, for when we are talking to someone, we use a number of verbal and non-verbal cues to clarify our speech, but when we write, we lose these aids and the reader is left to wonder what we mean. The problem is that we assume too much when we write, and in doing so, we sacrifice clarity. The most common mistakes are listed below, so you may want to study this carefully and work very hard to factor these imperfections out of your technique. Your readers will be grateful you did, but conversely, ignoring these cardinal errors is a path to certain destruction.
This means having a fair idea of how your argument will be framed before you write your first word. Don’t sit down and start spewing a stream of consciousness, but rather put an outline together first. You will have learned this in your first college English course, so if you don’t know how to do this, it means you skipped this part of your education. You need to consult a style manual as soon as possible, because without an outline, you will have no idea where you are going in your research or when you’ve actually finished with it.
With every word you put to paper, remember your objective: I am writing about THIS, so does what I just said further the reader’s knowledge of my subject? If you don’t care about your reader’s welfare, skip this step.
It’s no good writing ‘Many authorities agree that …’ or ‘Most experts say that …’ or ‘A number of sources suggest that…’ because your professor will most certainly ask you to name them. Who are these people? Don’t cite them in your paper unless you can cite them for attribution.
Work on lengthening your sentences to make your narrative flow more smoothly and try reading a good newspaper for examples. Notice how long the sentences are, how they are joined by conjunctions and how the article is put together. This is one of the best, most readily available sources for good writing, but more importantly, study the technique of writing you find in these stories.
In both examples, the writer has merely joined two separate sentences together with a comma, and although sometimes called a comma-splice, or fused or run-on sentence, the result is the same: a poorly crafted mess that should have been joined by a conjunction (‘and,’ ‘but’ or ‘or’). Of all the mistakes made in papers, this is among the most common.